Hats off to the National Youth Orchestra bassoonists this year (and the organisation’s social media bod) for capturing and sharing this cracking arrangement of a Britney Spears ‘Toxic’. Packed full of energy. Funny too.
What really gets me is how this time a year ago there were so many organisations pumping out lockdown videos consisting of isolated musicians. Back then we were marvelling at their isolated togetherness. A year later, we’re marvelling at them in real life.
Uplifting stuff. And there’s more to come, apparently.
This is a little niche and perhaps bordering on the hyper-local for regular readers of the Thoroughly Good Blog, but it wouldn’t be Thoroughly Good if I didn’t highlight something happening on my own patch here in South East London, a tantalising 10-minute bike ride away from me here in Hither Green: the second Beckenham and Bromley Festival is scheduled for 17th – 19th September 2021.
Artistic Directors and Bromley residents Benjamin Grosvenor and Hyeyoon Park (this brings my tally of classical music talent on my doorstep to a mind-boggling ten people) founded the festival with festival director Raja Halder, putting on four concerts and raising £4200 for a local hospice too.
Watch Hyeyoon Park and Timothy Ridout perform Martinu’s Three Madrigals in the Beckenham and Bromley International Festival 2020
This year violist Timothy Ridout and cellist Bartholomew LaFollette return, plus there’s a festival debut from BBC Young Musician winner Laura van der Heijden. Concert programmes will include Rachmaninoff’s Trio Élégiaque No.2, Schubert’s Trio No.2 in E-flat and Britten’s Lachrymae, one of the 20th century’s greatest works for viola and piano, and the festival finale including Brahms’ titanic Piano Quintet.
The festival will also feature Joseph Tawadros in a programme of his own original music. Born in Cairo and raised in Sydney, Tawadros is a multi-award winning composer, improviser and champion of his extraordinary instrument, the Oud. His music draws on Arabic traditions combining it with western classical, jazz, world, folk, metal and bluegrass.
Free tickets for under-12s and a fiver for under-21s. Everyone else, £22. Not bad.
News that COVID restrictions will be eased across England on 19 July is undoubtedly good to hear. The bookending of this painful period symbolised by the removal of mandatory mask-wearing and greater freedom in the hospitality sector gives a sense of uplift. Renewal. Recovery.
Be wary of getting carried away however. Arriving in my (and countless other journos) inbox as soon as the Prime Minister made his announcement was this comment from James Williams, the MD of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra:
“Whilst the Government’s announcement advising that Covid restrictions will be lifted from 19 July gives us all the sense of hope we need, to date the Government has failed to provide the performing arts with a sustainable operational roadmap that will ensure the economic viability of performances and the safety of venues, artists and audiences.
“There is an important task to be done rebuilding public confidence and providing the necessary reassurance that returning to the concert hall and the enjoyment of live performances can be done safely. This requires from Government a robust roadmap that sets out a transition from socially-distanced concerts to full-capacity events based on clear criteria, risk management protocols and meaningful, shared data from the Events Research Programme.
“Economically, venues and ensembles need full-capacity concerts, but the transition must be operationally and economically sustainable; the return to another lockdown in the autumn would be catastrophic for the sector.
“The RPO is fully committed to playing its part in the ‘building back’ that lies ahead, including enriching lives and supporting wellbeing after numerous lockdowns. But to be viable the economic sustainability of our work depends upon audiences and performers being safe in the concert hall.”
Restrictions are not over until all parts of the economy are able to function in the way they were before the pandemic hit.
The BBC has announced which of this year’s Prom concerts will be broadcast on TV. The season starts on Friday 30 July and finishes with the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday 11 December. Twenty concerts will be broadcast across BBC One, BBC Two, and BBC Four.
Every Prom concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and via the BBC Sounds app.
It seems utterly incredible to be even considering a 2021/2022 season.
On Saturday I heard a friend and also a colleague worry about the possibility that there would be some kind of stipulation placed on the 19th July easing of restrictions. Like them, I look on the new Health Secretary’s promises with a degree of optimism. The 19th July like 21 June seems like such an arbritary date, based not on the prevalence of transmissable virus, rather the total number of those vaccinated. Whose to say that date won’t move?
Still. September 2021 seems long enough away to imagine of non-socially distanced audiences, an open members bar, and casual non-directed toing and froing in the Festival Hall foyer. Maybe. Just maybe. It might just happen. Just beyond the summer.
The Southbank Centre are previewing their forthcoming non-distanced season with some impressive new partnerships too. The Multi-Storey Orchestra now move from Peckham to Waterloo. I’m also really pleased to see Manchester Collective having secured a place in the Southbank Centre’s ongoing line-up. A good programming match.
Edward Gardner and Santtu-Matias Rouvali have their first appearances in their respective roles as Principal Conductors of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra in September. Karina Canellakis debuts in her new titled position as Principal Guest Conductor of the LPO and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra comes with five special projects in partnership with the Southbank Centre under their new Music Director Vasily Petrenko.
And there’s the promise of the New Music Biennial in 2022 too.
BBC Radio 3 will be in residence for the opening week, and will broadcast Tippett’s rarely-performed The Midsummer Marriage;
Manchester Collective will appear at the Purcell Room (2 Oct & 3 Dec) and Queen Elizabeth Hall (24 Apr & 14 May) showcasing artists including Hannah Peel, Lyra Pramuk, Vessel and Abel Selaocoe.
One of the unexpected highlights during the London Mozart Players Croydon concert with Sheku Kanneh-Mason was a touching arrangement of The Swan from Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals, and the opening movement of Bach’s G Major cello suite.
The duet was played as an encore after Sheku’s performance of the Dvorak Cello Concerto.
Now the London Mozart Players have released a separate recording of the duet as a YouTube Premiere, to launch their online Spotlight On Series – concerto performances with new generation performers including Jess Gillam, and Isata Kanneh-Mason. Fourteen year-old d Leia-Zhu also appears in the line-up later this year with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
The films will be available to watch for 30 days from first broadcast via the LMP website www.londonmozartplayers.com, with individual concert tickets (per household) at £10.
A 4-concert package is also available until 24 July: £30 (four concerts for the price of three). The films can be watched anywhere in the world where there is Internet access.
The series has been filmed and edited by Simon Weir at Classical Media.
The Sitkovetsky Trio have a new album out this coming Friday including a recording of the Ravel Piano Trio. They’ve commissioned animator Pavel Hudec.
The Journey of the Pantoum: shows some of the events surrounding the creation of the Ravel Piano Trio in A minor, and the influences that Ravel was inspired by, his Basque roots and the rush to finish the piece as World War 1 drew nearer. Various characters appear throughout the film, including the Sitkovetsky Trio at Theater Chatelet.
An impressive creation that draws the eye.
Sitkovetsky Piano Trio’s Ravel Piano Trio is released by BIS on Friday 2 July.
Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky appeared on the Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast back in 2019. Find the podcast on Spotify and Audioboom.
With no programme there’s a risk of not quite knowing what it is you’re listening to. This isn’t necessarily a problem, especially for those of us who consider curiosity to be the only requirement for the live music experience. Not knowing is A Boon.
Not knowing can also throw up some surprises. For the first twenty minutes of the London Mozart Player’s Cadogan Hall gig I thought I was listening to a Mozart overture from an opera I couldn’t quite remember the title of. Hence why I applauded heartily after the final chord, only to discover a few seconds later that the applause had petered out and the work was unfinished.
Something in the music that followed triggered a thought: that sounds like Beethoven, doesn’t it?
The confusion says something about early Beethoven symphonies I had forgotten about. Beethoven’s symphony number two has hints of Mozart, so too hints of the complexities in Beethoven’s writing that perhaps are more obvious in his later symphonies.
Conductor Stephanie Childress asserted herself on the podium with elegance, poise and panache. I was transfixed by the movement of her arms – motion from her shoulder all the way to the tips of her fingers. There was a sense of flow and grace in every move. Precise direction in a clear baton technique drew out some remarkable ensemble work and arresting textures and articulation.
Isata Kanneh-Mason played with verve throughout the demanding Mendelssohn Piano Concerto No. 1, creating a tender melodic line in the second movement. Her fluid technique came the fore in the bravura third movement packed full of decorative elements that make the soloist reach for both ends of the keyboard. Isata was engaged but unfazed – a performance she fashioned from the instrument in front of her.
On a logistical front (these are unusual times), hats off to Cadogan Hall staff for being the venue who have managed to create as near normal a concert experience (including front of house) as I recall pre-pandemic. The acoustic isn’t quite so generous as St John’s Smith Square, nor as clear as Fairfields in Croydon, nor as supportive as Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.
It feels like another world here in Liverpool. There’s a buzz about the place. The warm breeze and brolly-clad streets hint at a cosmpolitan feel. This and the art deco interior of Liverpool’s Phiharmonic Hall give distanced concert-going a sophisticated edge.
The Philharmonic Hall staff are organised, effcient, welcoming, and attentive. Ingress is swift and unfussy, middle-aged confusion is quickly addressed with eager eyes and non-aggresive questioning. I feel welcome in a space I’ve never visited before. I feel welcome. And I gasp when I see the interior. That is quite some achievement.
On stage the RLPO are a fresh-faced unpretentious bynch whose low-key low-key outfits bring out the rich colours in the wood and brass. Their presence echoes the joyous interior design. The RLPO have got this licked. Totally.
Their performance of Stravinsky’s Octet celebrates the industrious articulation the composer demands in the score. There’s a beguiling duo between flute and clarinet at the beginning of the second movement momentarily interrupted by the thwack of a mobile escaping from the flautist’s pocket. No matter. This is live. And live feeds on jeopardy. I’m impressed by how full the sound is given there are only 8 players on stage – a reflection of the blissful acoustic.
The Trombone Concerto performed by Peter Moore – tonight’s premiere available live on BBC Radio 3 on 25th June and available stream via the RLPO website from 29th June – is trademark Howard. Her musical language is effortless TV music without the distraction of TV images. Evocative vibes, shimmering suspend cymbals and harmonic slides pepper the work. She creates a tantalising sense of optimism in her music in such a way that listening to it you can’t quite be sure whether you’re getting carried away or not. Music I want to listen to again and again. Some trick. The second movement opens with a impassioned statement from the trombone underpinned by a pianissimo brass line that tricks the ear into thinking there’s an echo in the hall. The concluding movement doesn’t quite hold my attention as much, but I’m not discouraged. Howard’s language here makes her someone whose output I want to explore further. Not sentimental. Not mawkish. Engaging. Invigorating.
Later, Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. Full of grace in the first movement – all silk pyjamas and warm summer breezes. A sumptous second movement was the undoubted high point. At first, the third movement lost my attention until three quarters of the way through when especially impressive ensemble between woodwind and strings hooked me back in with beautifully interlocking textures and ravishing closing chords in the strings.
Utterly charming (and actually adorable) conductor Domingo Hindoyan is good with a microphone and even better with Prokofiev’s first symphony, drawing out unexpected colours in the first movement, weighty detached strings in the second, and a gratifying and tightly controlled raucousness in the final movement.
A lovely evening.
Dani Howard’s Trombone Concerto receives its broadcast premiere on BBC Radio on 25th June.The concert is available to stream via the Royal Liverpool Philharmomic Orchestra website from 29th June.